HC Deb 31 March 1988 vol 130 cc1277-86 10.31 am
Mr. Frank Dobson (Holborn and St. Pancras)

Will the Leader of the House state the business for the week in which we return after the recess?

The Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons (Mr. John Wakeham)

The business for the first week after the Easter Adjournment will be as follows: TUESDAY I2 APRIL— Second Reading of the School Boards (Scotland) Bill.

Motion on the Church Commissioners (Assistance for Priority Areas) Measure.

WEDNESDAY I3 APRIL—Progress on remaining stages of the Health and Medicines Bill.

Afterwards motion relating to the Local Government (Prescribed Expenditure) (Amendment) Regulations.

THURSDAY I4 APRIL—Completion of remaining stages of the Health and Medicines Bill.

FRIDAY I5 APRIL—Private Members' Bills.

Mr. Dobson

I am grateful to the Leader of the House for his statement.

When can we expect a debate in Government time on the proposed sale of Rover to British Aerospace? In view of what we have just heard from the Prime Minister, may we expect a ministerial statement to establish exactly what is the Government's policy on allowing opting out of schools in Scotland? Is it as demanded by the Prime Minister in the leaked letter to the office of the Secretary of State and confirmed by her today, or is it as stated, and frequently repeated, by the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland? Parents in Scotland are entitled to some clarification.

When does the Leader of the House expect to tell us that there is to be a general inquiry into leaks from the Prime Minister's office, or is it that civil servants are gaoled when they leak what embarrasses the Prime Minister and promoted when they leak what pleases her?

Will the Leader of the House provide a fifth day on the Floor of the House for debate on the remaining stages of the poll tax Bill? He will be aware that the Secretary of State for the Environment tabled amendments to the Bill after the guillotine was introduced. We think that the Opposition and those Conservative Members who claim to oppose the poll tax should have an opportunity to debate in full those amendments and all other aspects of the Bill.

Although we recognise that the security services were rightly concerned to prevent a terrorist explosion in Gibraltar, when can we expect a ministerial statement to be made which explains what happened and how the press came to be misled into carrying false information about the subsequent shooting? My right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) has still not had answers to the 10 questions that he put to the Foreign Secretary and until answers are given to those questions many people in this country will be perturbed about what is believed to have happened and this country's reputation will suffer.

Does the Leader of the House recall that on Tuesday the Prime Minister invited the Opposition to put down a motion to cancel the social security changes due at the beginning of April? Will he guarantee that, if we put down such a motion, the Government will find time for it to be debated and that the Prime Minister will take part in the debate and display to the whole country her expertise in robbing the poor to pay off the rich?

Mr. Wakeham

The hon. Gentleman asked me a number of questions about business for the week after the Easter recess and other matters.

The hon. Gentleman asked whether there should be a debate on the Rover Group and the recent arrangements with British Aerospace. We can best discuss that through the usual channels, but the Government will be happy to have a debate on that, if the time can be found for it.

With regard to Scotland, the points at issue could, with a little skill, be brought into the debate on Tuesday 12 April on the Second Reading of the School Boards (Scotland) Bill.

With regard to leaks, I do not believe that it would be right to have a general inquiry. I should have thought that the Opposition would have believed that proper government required confidential arrangements for dealing with matters and would have deprecated leaks rather than seeking to make political capital out of them whenever they occur.

I recognise that there is concern in some quarters of the House about whether there is adequate time for the Local Government Finance Bill. The House has passed a timetable motion in respect of the Bill, but I should be happy to have discussions through the usual channels to see whether satisfactory arrangements can be made.

As for the events in Gibraltar, I should have thought that the hon. Gentleman would have agreed with the Prime Minister that it was right for the inquest in Gibraltar to have been conducted in accordance with the law and that any questions that might not be answered at that time could then be dealt with more appropriately through discussions with the Foreign Secretary and his right hon. Friend. I believe that it is the right course for the inquest to take place, although, of course, that is not a matter for me.

With regard to the Opposition motion on social security matters, there is an established procedure to discuss on Opposition days matters that the Opposition choose. No doubt—

Mr. Dobson

The Prime Minister asked for a debate.

Mr. Wakeham

The Prime Miniter made a suggestion as to what the Opposition might like to discuss. That is a matter for the Opposition and, when a Supply day is organised, no doubt they will have to choose the subject that they want to discuss. I have no doubt that whichever Minister replies to the debate will see off the Opposition once again.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. The House knows that this is a day for private Members' Adjournment debates. I shall allow business questions to run until 11 o'clock. I hope, therefore, that hon. Members will ask brief questions.

Mr. Roger Sims (Chislehurst)

Does my right hon. Friend recall the emotional impact of the Vietnamese boat people who arrived in Hong Kong some years ago? Is he aware that several thousand refugees are still in camps in Hong Kong, some of them the original arrivals, and that when the governor of Hong Kong was in London recently he was apparently unable to persuade Her Majesty's Government to allow some of those refugees to settle in Britain and thus encourage other countries to help in solving this problem? Will my right hon. Friend consider allowing the House to debate our moral obligation to those refugees and, indeed, the people and Government of Hong Kong, who have shouldered the burden for so long?

Mr. Wakeham

That is an important matter in Hong Kong and it is of wider concern, but I cannot promise my hon. Friend an early debate on it. However, I shall refer the point that he has raised to my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs.

Mr. Norman Hogg (Cumbernauld and Kilsyth)

Will the Leader of the House accept that, since the Secretary of State for Scotland is here today, and likewise the Under-Secretary of State for Scotland with responsibility for education, it would be appropriate to have a statement at 11 o'clock on the situation which obtains as a result of the now celebrated leaks which appeared in the Glasgow Herald? I am referring to the School Boards (Scotland) Bill and the Government's intention to bring forward proposals for opting out.

Will the right hon. Gentleman further accept that all those circumstances, which have been created largely by the Prime Minister, have caused the Secretary of State for Scotland to become something of a figure of ridicule in Scotland, which is not in anyone's interests? Such a situation cannot continue, and it would be in the Government's interest if a statement were to be made at 11 o'clock.

Mr. Wakeham

I am tempted to discuss other matters of ridicule, but I will not. The Prime Minister tried, and I tried yesterday, to set out the position with regard to education in Scotland. The right thing to do is to discuss this matter in the debate on the day that we return after the Easter Adjournment.

Mr. Teddy Taylor (Southend, East)

In view of the most worrying statement this morning by the chairman of the excellent British Aerospace that his results have been devastated by losses on the Airbus contract, will the Government make an early statement about whether they have any powers to bring some economic management into that project and to stop the creation of a mountatin of state-aided and unsaleable planes?

Mr. Wakeham

I cannot accept what my hon. Friend says about the management of that project, but I shall certainly refer the matter to my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster.

Mr. James Wallace (Orkney and Shetland)

The Leader of the House is undoubtedly aware of the great concern in Scotland about the leaked proposals. Will he say whether, in the absence of a Select Committee on Scottish Affairs, the Government would be prepared to send the School Boards (Scotland) Bill to a Select Committee before it is referred to a Standing Committee, or does he have news to report on the progress of setting up a Select Committee on Scottish Affairs?

Can the Leader of the House help us? Does he know why the Leader of the Opposition appears to have discontinued the convention that he asks the Leader of the House the question on business? Is he too busy fighting on other fronts?

Mr. Wakeham

I am always sorry when the Leader of the Opposition is not here, and that is no criticism of the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson), who stands in admirably for him. However, the Leader of the Opposition does seem to have one or two matters on his plate at the moment, and we shall await developments.

My task here today — [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman asked me about the School Boards (Scotland) Bill and I am trying to answer him. My job is to announce the business, not the contents of ministerial speeches, and he will have to wait until Tuesday 12 April for that.

Mr. Eric Forth (Mid-Worcestershire)

May I share with my right hon. Friend the concern just expressed that the Leader of the Opposition seems to have abandoned the long-standing convention of his being here for business questions? Perhaps my right hon. Friend will take an early opportunity to explain that to the House.

May I urge on my right hon. Friend an early debate, ranging across the whole spectrum of political policy, so that the various Labour party leadership candidates may give to their colleagues and the House the fullest explanation of their policies? Perhaps they will be prepared to give a statement on whether any one of them elected to the leadership of the Opposition would be prepared to liaise with any of the others elected as deputy leader. Opposition Members are entitled to know the answer to that vital question.

Mr. Wakeham

As usual, my hon. Friend is being extremely charitable to the Opposition. However, having heard some of the right hon. and hon. Members who are candidates, my experience is that at the end of their speeches one is not much clearer what their policies are.

I am not sure that my hon. Friend's way is the right way to proceed.

Mr. Nigel Spearing (Newham, South)

When will there be a statement on the Agriculture Ministers' meeting which took place earlier this week? Would it not have been better for the statement to have been made today? Will it be made when we return from the recess? Is the Leader of the House aware that 21 documents arising from the Copenhagen and Brussels meetings need to be debated in the House? Will he guarantee that they will be debated before decisions are taken?

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the April business statement for EEC matters is not in the Vote Office? Does he agree that these matters are not up to scratch in a procedural sense, and should not the Leader of the House ensure that matters are improved as soon as possible?

Mr. Wakeham

The hon. Gentleman keeps a close watch on these matters. He is aware that I have had discussions and I recognise that there were some shortcomings in what happened in the past. We are doing our best to improve the position. There were certain discussions through the usual channels about the most convenient way of handling statements in the House. I will take on board the points raised by the hon. Gentleman and try to improve in the other areas.

Mr. Ivor Stanbrook (Orpington)

Is my right hon. Friend aware of any early-day motion which has attracted the support of more than 350 hon. Members? Does not such support reflect the strong feeling in the House about the anomaly whereby all public service pensioners' war service is included for pensions purposes unless their service was abroad? In view of the strong feeling expressed by the vast majority of hon. Members on both sides of the House, is there any need for a debate? Should not the proposal just be introduced?

Mr. Wakeham

I recognise how strongly my hon. Friend and other hon. Members feel about this. As he is aware, my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs has said that he would be glad to discuss the issue again with my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook) and a number of his colleagues. That is perhaps the best way to proceed.

Mrs. Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley)

As a result of the considerable concern over the Government's poll tax proposals, their complexity and the fact that amendments were introduced by the Secretary of State for the Environment after the guillotine fell, will the Leader of the House ensure that an extra day is made available so that those proposals can be explored in considerable detail in the House before we vote on them?

Mr. Wakeham

I do not believe that the fact that there are Government amendments automatically means that the guillotine motion passed by the House is invalid and should be reconsidered. That is not a precedent that I can accept. The question is rather the number of amendments, their complexity and whether there is adequate time. I told the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson), the Opposition Front Bench spokesman, that I would have discussions through the usual channels. We will look at this again, although the House has settled the matter.

Mr. Nicholas Baker (Dorset, North)

Will my right hon. Friend find time to discuss the report published today by the Haringey education authority which recommends that children should be required to learn about gay scientists, lesbian stand-up comics and Nazi persecution of homosexuals"? Will join me in condemning pernicious rubbish of this kind and support a policy for the sake of the nation's children and to prevent discrimination by way of reaction against the homosexual community that local authorities should not try to pretend that homosexuality is a pretended family relationship?

Mr. Wakeham

I agree entirely with my hon. Friend, but I cannot find time in the week after the Easter recess for a debate on that subject.

Mr. Tony Banks (Newham, North-West)

May I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to early-day motion 919, which marks the fact that today is the second anniversary of the abolition of the Greater London council?

[That this House notes that 31st March marks the second anniversary of the abolition of the Greater London Council; calls attention to the loss to London of bold, imaginative and socially responsible policies in the areas of transport, planning, housing, recreation and the arts; further notes the cuts being imposed by the Government upon the London Fire Brigade together with the general deterioration during the past two years of London's services and infrastructure; and calls for the restitution of London-wide local government, together with a single voice for the capital city and the return of a sense of London identity and zest for living which two years ago emanated from County Hall.]

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that in many respects services and infrastructure in London, particularly with regard to transport, planning and housing, have descended into unplanned chaos? The right hon. Gentleman has promised an early debate on London. When will it take place?

Mr. Wakeham

I congratulate those who tabled the early-day motion, because without it we would have quite forgotten the anniversary. Perhaps we should have a minute's silence from the hon. Gentleman once a year. That would contribute more to good government than anything else that he has done. I listened carefully to what he said, but I cannot promise an early debate on the subject.

Mr. Harry Greenway (Ealing, North)

Will my right hon. Friend take note of the reduction in rates payable by Londoners since the abolition of the GLC, for which we are all grateful, which we do not want back in any form?

Will my right hon. Friend consider early-day motion 752, signed by hon. Members on both sides of the House?

[That this House calls upon Her Majesty's Government to press the European Economic Community to renew the import ban on baby seal products as a means of maintaining pressure for a ban on the inhumane culling of baby seals, wherever they occur.]

May we have an early debate on this important matter?

Mr. Wakeham

That is an important matter. The Government strongly support the current EEC directive banning the import of harp and hooded seal pup skins and products on conservation grounds. A review of the conservation status of those two species will be undertaken before the expiry of the directive at the end of September 1989. No expiry date has been attached to our national measures to implement the directive under the Endangered Species (Import and Export) Act 1976.

Mr. Bob Cryer (Bradford, South)

May we have a debate on the Register of Members' Interests, especially in view of the abuses that have come to light, including the planting of 58 parliamentary questions on behalf of Price Waterhouse and the recent article in the Daily Mirror demonstrating that Morgan Grenfell appears to regard Members of Parliament as being available for hire?

I draw the attention of the Leader of the House to early-day motion 927, which calls for an inquiry into the sale of the Rover Group and especially the role of the right hon. Member for Chingford (Mr. Tebbit).

[That this House notes the £2.9 billion paid to rescue British Leyland, now called the Rover Group, by the taxpayer; is astonished that British Aerospace is effectively being paid £650 million to take over the sole remaining British volume car-maker with assets valued at over £700 million and an improving financial position; demands that any benefits go to the nation; and calls for a full inquiry into this bizarre deal and the position of the Right honourable Member for Chingford as adviser to the Chair of British Aerospace in the conduct of negotiations.]

Would it not be better to discuss all those matters and the effectiveness of the register in an early debate?

Mr. Wakeham

I know that the hon. Gentleman wishes to be helpful in these matters. I have noted the Select Committee's proposal about the changes to be made in the registration of directorships and its further consideration of lobbying, but I do not see the need for a debate. Although there is a stronger case for a debate on the Rover Group, I can add nothing to what I have already said to the hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Mr. Dobson).

Mr. Nicholas Bennett (Pembroke)

In the light of the successful completion last night of the Committee stage of the Abortion (Amendment) Bill, after three and a half days of exhaustive, if not exhausting, debate, will my right hon. Friend bear in mind the fact that if the Bill was obstructed on the Floor of the House on Report and Third reading, and was not completed, many people who have a great interest in the subject would look to the Government to provide time so that the House could make a final decision on the matter?

Mr. Wakeham

The Government have made their position clear. At the beginning of the Session, we provided additional time for private Members' Bills generally, and, except in wholly exceptional cases, we do not believe that we should provide additional time for any Bill, however important it is or how much support it attracts. But I agree with my hon. Friend that the whole House would deprecate the use of procedural tactics to try to stop it reaching a decision on the matter.

Mr. Rhodri Morgan (Cardiff, West)

Has the Leader of the House read early-day motion 922, which has been signed by more than 120 Labour Members of Parliament?

[That this House notes the Prime Minister's apparent wish for a debate on her social security changes; believes that the challenge she issued to the Leader of the Opposition on this subject on Tuesday 29th March was solely intended to cover up her own confusion; and invites the Prime Minister therefore to propose a debate in Government time and on a Government motion to enable the Leader of her Majesty's Official Opposition to respond to her challenge.]

It seems to commemorate another second anniversary — the last time that the Prime Minister spoke in a debate in the House. Does the Leader of the House agree that the 62 new Labour Members are suffering from a form of sensory deprivation, which is a great disappointment to them, not having heard the Prime Minister's spout-to-kill policy in operation? Does he agree that the social security changes that will be introduced on 11 April would provide a suitable opportunity for a debate involving the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition?

Mr. Wakeham

I had noticed that early-day motion, but it completely misses the point made by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister on Tuesday. If the Opposition are so set against the social security increases that will go to the overwhelming majority of claimants after 11 April, they should give themselves the opportunity to stop those increases.

Mr. Allen Adams (Paisley, North)

Given that once again this week the Prime Minister has behaved towards Scotland with all the sensitivity of a sex-starved boa constrictor, will the Leader of the House—

Mr. Speaker

Order. I do not know whether there is anything in "Erskine May" about that sort of comment, but I do not think that it adds to the dignity of the House. As it is Easter, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will rephrase his question.

Mr. Adams

Of course I withdraw it, Mr. Speaker. I would not call the Prime Minister a sex-starved boa constrictor, but outside this place I have heard a number of people refer to the Prime Minister in those terms.

Will the Leader of the House try to get the Secretary of State for Scotland off his knees for five minutes and bring him into the Chamber to make a statement on Scottish education so that we may know exactly what the Government's policy is?

Mr. Wakeham

If the hon. Gentleman is trying to influence me or change my mind, he will have to do much better than that.

Mr. Max Madden (Bradford, West)

Is the Leader of the House aware that many pensioners are extremely angry about losing the pension increase because of the delay in payment until 11 April? Will he arrange to dip into the money that the Government are saving by robbing pensioners of their pension increases to pay for free television licences for all pensioner households? Those licences will be increased on 1 April.

Will the right hon. Gentleman also arrange for the Secretary of State for Social Services, on the first day back, to make a statement on the changes in the social security system, which the Government have called historic, to enable the House to put questions to him about the problems that will inevitably arise from those changes?

Will the Leader of the House ensure that citizens advice bureaux are not victimisied by the Prime Minister but are given additional funds to deal with the avalanche of queries arising from the social security changes?

Mr. Wakeham

The answer to all the questions except the last one is no, Sir. The hon. Gentleman's question on funding for citizens advice bureaux is not a matter for me.

Mr. Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North)

Will the Leader of the House ensure that during the week after the recess there is a debate on foriegn affairs, and especially the Prime Minister's forthcoming trip to Turkey? Will he convey to her the wish of many hon. Members and many British people that, instead of approving the veneer of democracy that the Turkish Government try to put on their country, she should instead visit the prisons in Turkey, which are the most overcrowded and which have the largest prison population in Europe?

She should also visit Diyarbakir in eastern Turkey where many Kurdish people are being killed by the Turkish army, and she should call for the release of Mr. Kutlu and Dr. Sargin, the general secretaries of the Communist party and the Workers party respectively, who have been held in prison and tortured but have not yet been brought to trial. Will the right hon. Gentleman ensure that the Prime Minister denounces this travesty of democracy in the name of this country?

Mr. Wakeham

I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister will have a successful and informative visit to Turkey. I have already said that the time is approaching when we should have another debate on foreign affairs. I know that hon. Members on both sides of the House wish to discuss many issues, but I cannot promise such a debate in the near future.

Mr. Greville Janner (Leicester, West)

May we have a debate very soon on the extraordinary saga of the disappearing documents, which were in the Public Record Office, relating to war crimes in general and to the allegations against President Waldheim in particular? Will the Leader of the House draw the attention of the Foreign Secretary to the leading article in The Times today about an alleged deal with Allied intelligence, and will he assure the House that the Easter holiday will not be used by our military intelligence to remove yet more documents from those files?

Mr. Wakeham

The hon. and learned Gentleman wishes me to refer that report in the newspapers to my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary. I shall certainly do that. I know how strongly the hon. and learned Gentleman feels about some of these issues, but I cannot promise him an early debate on the matter.

Mr. Barry Porter (Wirral, South)

Will my right hon. Friend find time for a debate on the troubles of Prescot, or indeed the troubles caused by Prescott? Prescot requires, indeed demands, new employment and it is right that the problems of this small town in south Lancashire should be debated in the House.

Mr. Wakeham

I regret that I cannot find time next week for that very important subject.

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North)

I welcome any move by the Home Secretary to ensure that there is adequate protection for African National Congress representatives in London following the assassination that took place in France. Would it be possible for the Foreign Secretary to call in the South African ambassador and make it perfectly clear that Britain will not tolerate the South African authorities' murder squads operating in this country? Would the Leader of the House also remind the Foreign Secretary that the ANC offices have, on numerous occasions, been burgled and that on one occasion they were fire-bombed? We must tell South Africa that its murder squads and other hit agents cannot operate in the United Kingdom under any circumstances.

Mr. Wakeham

I have no idea whether the hon. Gentleman's allegations are correct. However, I shall refer the points he made to my right hon. and learned Friend the Foreign Secretary.

Mr. Tony Worthington (Clydebank and Milngavie)

The Leader of the House must act to end the tragi-comedy of Scottish education policy where the Secretary of State for Scotland is being turned into the Kurt Waldheim of the Government Benches; he only obeys orders. Will the Leader of the House arrange for the Prime Minister to come and tell us about Scottish education policy because the Secretary of State does not know about it?

Mr. Wakeham

What is tragic is the way in which the Opposition get excited about some of these things and make a great deal of fuss and then realise that they are barking up the wrong tree. What I have done to try to assist them is to arrange the Second Reading of the School Boards (Scotland) Bill on Tuesday 12 April, and if they get their act together, they can make their points in that debate.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. In view of the fact that the Adjournment debates are starting half an hour later than is shown on the Order Paper, the hon. Member for Newbury (Mr. McNair-Wilson) and the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East (Mr. Strang) should divide the time between them. The debate of the hon. Member for Newbury will continue until 11.30 and the debate of the hon. Member for Edinburgh, East will be from 11.30 until 12 o'clock.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker.

Mr. Speaker

I cannot take points of order now. This is private Members' time.

Mr. Dalyell

On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I asked you for a ruling yesterday, as reported in column 1107 of Hansard, on the issue of leaks by civil servants and politicians. My question is simple: are you going to consider that, possibly over the Easter recess, in the light of what was reported in column 1107?

Mr. Speaker

I shall be considering throughout the Easter recess what went on yesterday.